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Sam Demma: Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities During COVID-19

Written by Samantha Moss

If there’s anything we’ve learned about Gen Z during this pandemic, it’s that they’re becoming increasingly self-sufficient and entrepreneurial. Especially now with the rise of TikTok, an app known for expediting small businesses overnight. And with so many digital tools and resources available during their time in lockdown, it’s no surprise that young people are overcoming financial obstacles and choosing self-employment over entry-level gigs. 

To understand what it’s like for young entrepreneurs to maintain their personal brands during a global lockdown, we talked to our friend Sam Demma. Sam is a 21-year-old youth speaker that spends a good chunk of his time exercising, dancing the bachata, reading books, and speaking to students about service work and self-leadership. He also runs two podcasts: The High Performing Student & The High Performing Educator and is currently writing a book titled Dear High School Me.

While he may have learned some tricks to help build his platform at the University of Toronto, most of his so-far success is thanks to his own consistent actions, grit and curiosity. 

Can you expand a bit on what you do, and your initial inspiration for it?

Mostly, I’m focused on speaking to students and creating content for my podcasts. I also deliver inspirational keynotes for entire schools, Specialist High Skills Major Certifications (SHSM) for schools in Ontario, and a four-day seminar for Career Studies Classes. The keynote speeches teach students about the importance of servant leadership, self-leadership, and volunteerism. Schools will typically hire us if they are looking to boost their students’ morale, inspire them to get more involved in the community/school clubs, and ultimately create a culture of hope and service. I also enjoy volunteering with PickWaste, exercising, reading books, and thinking about new ideas to execute and create.

I was originally inspired by my grade 12 world issues teacher, Michael Loudfoot. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He was the teacher who inspired the start of PickWaste, a volunteer organization my best friend and I started in high school, which led to our initial speeches in schools to recruit volunteers. After delivering about 40 presentations I realized that speaking was something I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. If you’re really curious about the inspiration, check out the TEDx talk, “Small, Consistent Actions.”

What kinds of projects have you done in the past?

PickWaste – Awareness Day

In 2018, we organized a public event to raise awareness about single-use plastics and the influence that young people have in this space. It was hosted with our volunteer organization PickWaste. We built PickWaste in 2017 to increase student volunteerism and clean up our city. The event was even addressed publicly by our Mayor. You can read more about this on CBC or watch a video on CTV.

High Performing Student Program

Ex NFL athlete, Niyi Sobo, mentored me when I was 17. He taught me about planning, overcoming obstacles, goal setting and habit building. It completely changed the trajectory of my life! With his influence, I’ve spent the past four years building my own systems and teaching them to students across North America. 

The free program helps students develop more confidence, reduce self-doubt, defeat procrastination, and more. If you’re a student who is open-minded and likes learning new things, this is for you. 

High Performing Student Podcast

This is for students that are serious about reaching their full potential and living a healthy, happy, and productive life. Students can listen to interviews with the world’s top performers for actionable tools and strategies to become real-world-ready.

What kinds of projects are you working on now?

When COVID-19 hit I created a new project to support educators. Think about it like Forbes for education.  We set out to showcase and spotlight the work of amazing educators around the world. This includes a podcast with over 60 interviews since May and various featured articles. You can find all of this at www.highperformingeducator.com!

How has COVID-19 impacted, changed or influenced your platform, plans and/or strategies?

The second week of March 2020 I felt totally defeated. Within seven days I received over 30 emails/phone calls about cancelled presentations. For the next two weeks, I binged tv and tried to figure out what I was going to do. Thankfully, I decided to invest in a coach and with his guidance I shifted my perspectives and turned what seemed like my greatest challenge into a huge opportunity.  

To pivot, I created a virtual studio where I now deliver all my presentations. I now use LED lighting, 4K cameras and professional sounding audio.  I’ve since delivered over 50 programs from this remote space, but really look forward to the day that I can continue visiting schools in person.

What has been the biggest eye opener for you personally and professionally since the pandemic started?

Spending so much time on my devices taught me that people are not as far as they seem, and with the right approach there is not a single person you can’t reach. Except maybe, Beyonce. 

Personally, I learned that success without love, health and happiness means little. When the world paused there were only a few things that every human being really wanted; community, safety, health, and love. Lockdown forces us to confront and remember this nearly every day. It’s all about gratitude and turning obstacles into opportunities.

What have been your biggest obstacles and how did you overcome them? 

When COVID started I told myself “what I want to do is no longer possible.” The pandemic posed major obstacles for my original plans which led to negative emotions and no action. But, at the same time, going through the same situation, my mentor told himself “people need what I have to offer now more than ever.” He believed it was his greatest opportunity.  That belief led him to positive emotions and massive action, and so I did the same. 

We wish Sam the best of luck in his future endeavors and a promising career ahead! To check out his work, visit his website here. 

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.